Amanda Beard, who took the world by storm as the adorable 14-year-old who won one relay gold and two individual silver medals at the 1996 Olympic Games, has had a roller coaster ride since.
After several frustrating years as she adjusted to her maturing body, Amanda has steadily made her way back among the world’s elite, culminating in a world record-tying performance in the 200 meter breaststroke at this summer’s World Championships in Barcelona.
Amanda was Swimming World’s selection as its Female American Swimmer of the Year for 2003.
My Favorite Drill: The Fly to Breast Kick Drill
At 14, Amanda Beard was the “baby” of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. But she was a fast baby, setting an American record in the 100 meter breaststroke (1:08.09) at the Olympic Trials, then going on to win gold in the medley relay and silver in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke at the Atlanta Games.
For the next several years, as she struggled to adjust her stroke to her changing body, most experts wrote her off as a factor for the 2000 Olympics. But not her coach, Dr. Dave Salo. He predicted she would be back by the U.S. Trials, and would make the U.S. team in the 200 meter breaststroke. That’s exactly what she did, as she placed second behind Kristy Kowal in Indianapolis. At Sydney, she confounded the prognosticators once again by earning a bronze medal.
After Sydney, Amanda turned pro, giving up her final two years of eligibility at the University of Arizona. Since then, she has been a major presence on the World Cup circuit and at the Novo Nordisk Sprint Cup, consistently placing in both the breaststroke and individual medley events, and improving on her lifetime bests. In December 2001, she set an American record in the short course 50 meter breaststroke at 30.89.
Here, Amanda describes her favorite drill: The Fly to Breast Kick Drill. Dr. Dave Salo, head coach of the Irvine Novaquatics Swim Team, adds his helpful and instructive comments. Finally, Matt Rankin, head coach of the Phoenix Swim Club Masters, offers a Masters perspective. P.W.
Amanda Beard: As a breaststroker, there are many days when I find myself feeling low in the water. This is a drill I do to help me stay on top of the water and feel strong during workouts. It is called the Fly to Breast Kick Drill. I do this drill daily in my workouts, and add extra time to work on it when my stroke feels low and slow.
The drill is simple: I do a breaststroke pull with a dolphin kick, then dive under the water and finish with a strong breaststroke kick. The dolphin kick helps me get into that undulating motion that is essential to the success of my breaststroke.
In doing the dolphin kick, it is important to exaggerate the up-kick and arch your back. This will help you get high on the surface of the water before you dive under.
Coach Dave Salo: I can relate to Amanda’s comments. As a breaststroker myself, once upon a time, I recall the frustration of “losing your stroke”. Just as quickly as you lose it, it can come back.
Much of Amanda’s training through her developmental years involved the components of breaststroke and less full-stroke training. When her stroke was not feeling right, which is most often a timing issue, the components of the stroke can be trained without the frustration that accompanies an ” off” stroke.
Broken down into stroke components, the breaststroke swimmer can introduce a tremendous amount of variability during training (.e.g., fast breaststroke pull with free kick, with dolphin kick, ” piston kick,” up-down drills, sculling drills, etc.). Because the components can be trained at maximal capacity, as fatigue becomes a factor in training performance, the timing of the stroke will not be affected detrimentally.
The Fly to Breast Kick Drill is an outstanding means by which to recover the sense of ” undulation,” or body flow in the breaststroke, when the stroke is feeling “off”. Of course, it is also a viable drill when the stroke is feeling good. This drill accentuates the flow of the body over and through the water. Care must be taken not to overemphasize the downward path of the flow; rather, we emphasize a driving forward and under path of body extension.
The flow should be felt from the lead of the shoulders and head (in line with the back), and sequentially runs through the upper shoulders through the mid-back and then through the hips an ultimately through the legs (which should be firm and elastic rather than rigid or flaccid, hey, that almost rhymes).
Coach Matt Rankin: It’s important to keep in mind that what is being described here is a world-class breaststroker doing a perfect drill. The type of breaststroke Amanda does is very hard for Masters swimmers to emulate, particularly the height she achieves and the arch she is able to get in her back.
The main reason Amanda can achieve this position is due to tremendous abdominal and lower back strength, an area where most Masters swimmers are notoriously weak.
Still, doing this drill would be helpful to most Masters, particularly if they couple it with exercises to strengthen the core body muscles. A variation of this drill for Masters would be to use only dolphin kicks while wearing fins.